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The West's Betrayal of Russian Dissidents By: Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 10, 2008


[The article below continues Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov's Frontpage feature "Biden's Secret Diplomacy," which reveals that Joe Biden told the Soviets off-record that he did not care about the persecution of Russian dissidents. To read Part One, click here. - The Editors]


The story told in the Soviet archival document is merely an example of the much more general weakness of the West. In fact, Biden and Lugar, even as portrayed in Zagladin's report, were by far not the worst. Many other documents from Zagladin's collection reveal extraordinary tales of deception and treachery, for he supervised the more recent version of the Comintern network, the Soviet fifth column in the West - valuable fellow-travelers, sympathizers and secret collaborators. Clearly, Senators Biden and Lugar were no part of it. It is just that, rather typically for Western politicians and diplomats in those times, they saw the arms control as the top priority. To them, human rights really remained a sore, embarrassing issue which - to use Biden's own expressions - only "spoiled the atmosphere," "caused distrust," and hampered progress on much more important problems of global security. The right way to deal with human rights was through "quiete diplomacy" somewhere on the margins of arms control talks.

What they failed to understand was that the human rights were - and still are - the cornerstone of East-West relations, for that is where the fundamental difference between the two worlds lies. The Soviet regime, like its present successor in Russia, simply could not survive without persecution of dissidents, whereas the free world naturally could not tolerate brutal human rights abuses - hence the existential hostility between them, which could not be solved by negotiations or agreements. As the late Andrei Sakharov rightly wrote, the external aggressiveness of the regime was naturally connected with internal repression. One naturally follows the other, so you cannot separate security from human rights.

This simple truth was internationally acknowledged in the 1975 Helsinki Accords, where the problems of European security, cooperation and human rights were explicitly linked. That was quite a controversial treaty, where a huge concession was made to the Soviets: it practically legalized their post-war territorial expansion. In exchange, Moscow was obliged to observe human rights, a provision it never intended to follow. Among other things, the agreement provided for the right of independent public monitoring of its implementation. So the Russian dissidents then organized independent public groups to that end, led by Prof. Yuri Orlov, only to be arrested and imprisoned for anti-Soviet propaganda. That was a decisive moment. If the West failed to hold the Soviets to account, the Helsinki Accords would prove pointless, and the whole détente policy would prove to be mere appeasement.

So, here is one of the Western protests about this. On July 5, 1983, Bruno Kraisky, the then Chancellor of Austria, wrote to the Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov:

I have been asked, on many occasions, by my friends and acquaintances, to petition you about Yuri Orlov, a Soviet citizen who is imprisoned since early 1977. [...] Naturally, my intentions are very far from intervening in Soviet internal affairs. If I address you with such a request, this is only because of compassion and my firm hope for your generosity. I suppose it would have a positive effect if you made a generous gesture in this case precisely at the time of growing tensions which, as I know, both you and I very much want to relax.

A cover note by Andropov's aide recommends to leave this unanswered, and below is a handwritten resolution by Andropov himself: "I agree." Of course, they were quite right: at the time when international agreements warranted demands, what else could they do with such a humble plea but throw it away?

That is what "quiet diplomacy" really was and, of course, it never brought any positive results. What it did was to corrupt Western politicians, gradually turning them into collaborators rather than partners.

Yet another example of this kind is the document about Jacques Chaban-Delmas, once a hero of the war-time French Resistance, who in 1980 was the President of France's National Assembly. He happened to be in Moscow on an official visit when another human rights scandal erupted in January 1980: Andrei Sakharov, the famous dissident physicist, was extra-judicially exiled to Gorky. Chaban-Delmas immediately interrupted his visit and flew back to France, where he won much applause for his firmness.

It is rather shocking now to read in a secret document what really happened behind the scenes. After Chaban-Delmas announced he would leave Moscow, the Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev sent an envoy to see him in the French embassy, an envoy who was none other than Zagladin, and here is what he reported back to his master:

Chaban-Delmas received me with emphatic friendliness and hospitality. He immediately said that he 'asks the Soviet friends to understand his motives correctly'. He claims that his move was motivated by the only consideration: to preserve his prestige in the West in order to act in the interests of détente and Soviet-French friendship in the future. Such is the public opinion in the West, he continued, that 'no one would understand me if I went on with the visit. Most important to me is that I have done the essential part of the job: I had an extremely important meeting with President Brezhnev and very thoughtful negotiations in the Supreme Soviet. So, I have completed the working part of my visit. As for the tourist entertainment, I shall have them next time. For now, I consciously postpone them for the future's sake'.

After listening to my explanation of why the Soviet leadership had to take the known decisions regarding Sakharov, Chaban-Delmas noted that, in his impression, Sakharov's actions were certainly punishable 'provided that all of them are legally proved'. So, he continued, one should emphasize the humanism of Soviet authorities who only moved Sakharov to another city rather than prosecuted him. [...]

I remain your friend and shall act accordingly, the collocutor continued. [...] 'The most important thing is to take care of the future. We have to "survive" the American elections, which are a real nightmare to all of us. I am going to Washington after the elections to tell the elected president straightaway that he has to think again about the problem of U.S. missiles in Europe.' I will say, Chaban-Delmas continued, that U.S. missiles in Europe are the same as Soviet missiles on Cuba, and the Americans are wrong when they choose to ignore this. This should be taken into account when we search for a solution. I shall engage in that battle without hesitation and I believe I can make a useful contribution. But the most important thing is to survive the autumn elections, he concluded.

He asked to convey to Comrade Brezhnev his cordial gratitude for hospitable reception he met in the Soviet Union, and particularly for informing him about Sakharov, which 'demonstrates that the Soviet leaders trust me and want to see me as a friend.'

This was a man with spotless reputation, a hero of the Resistance, from whom one would never expect treachery - no more than from Senators Biden or Lugar. Indeed, this hardly had much to do with personalities. What really should be condemned and rejected is the set of ideas which misguided all of them: the groundless belief in détente with a totalitarian regime, "influencing" it through "engagement" and "cooperation," preserving stability at any price, arms control, quiet diplomacy, "working together" for the sake of global security - all that nonsense.

Today, it has become compulsory for any politician commenting on Russia to begin by saying that "nobody wants a new Cold War." In a sense, this is right. Nobody wants a long and painful global conflict - and that is exactly where any attempt of détente or appeasement would lead. The West never chose to have a Cold War, and never would - it was always imposed on us by the Kremlin aggressors. Like 60 years ago, the choice we have today is between capitulation and defense.

Nobody wants to repeat the mistakes made in the first Cold War. This is precisely why, now that Moscow has declared a Second Cold War on the rest of the world, it should be opposed with strength. This is why the West should find a way and bring this Cold War to a quick and bloodless victory. One way to do that - perhaps the only way - is to put human rights at the top of the agenda; to realize that the people oppressed by the Kremlin are your natural - and most reliable - allies; and to give every support to those brave men and women in Russia who risk their freedom and lives by opposing the authoritarian regime.


Vladimir Bukovsky is a former leading Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom. His works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow. Pavel Stroilov is a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations.


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